West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 6/21/24

Before we get started here, I’ve got to point out that I still haven’t learned my Threads lesson. I know, I know…It didn’t really get nasty this time, but it’s still amazing how many people don’t understand something is a joke unless you throw an “lol” at the end. It’s an audience brainwashed by the existence of laugh tracks! Without being told, these people don’t know when/if they’re supposed to laugh at something. Anyway, I got a bunch of replies about tall basketball playing sons who wouldn’t fit on normal beds, etc. I didn’t ask for your life story, Sally! Such a strange place over there…

So, believe it or not, but I watched TWO movies this week. Well, more like one and a half. You see, I’d started the first one last week, but still had the second half to get through, so I carved out some time to do that. That movie was Quiz Lady, starring Awkwafina and Sandra Oh, which was basically what you’d get if Wes Anderson directed John Wick. No, really.

Before we get into it, isn’t it time for the “Awkwafina brand” to be retired? I mean, she’s 36 now, and this is a stage name she chose when she was 15. I remember when Lady Gaga was cast in A Star Is Born, and there was serious pressure for her to be credited as “Stefani Germanotta”, which is her birth name. It’s just weird that Awkwafina has pivoted to a lot of serious roles, where the stuffy awards judges might look more kindly on “Nora Lum” as opposed to what amounts to the name of a bottled water brand. I mean, be who you are, but it feels like she’s leaving the work behind that “Awkwafina” was known for, so maybe it’s time for a rebrand to align with what she’s currently doing?
Anyway, Awkwafina stars as Anne Yum, who’s a boring, middle-aged worker drone, whose only joy in life is watching the nightly broadcast of Can’t Stop The Quiz, which is a trivia game show hosted by Will Ferrell’s Terry McTeer. The show has been a fixture in her life, and she’s incredible at it. She’d never considered actually being a contestant, though, as her social anxiety got in the way. So, she just watches from her couch, with her dog, Mr. Linguini, beside her. When her mother goes missing from a nursing home, Anne rushes over to the facility, only to find that her estranged older sister, Jenny (played by Oh), has also been summoned to town. Turns out mom and her boyfriend actually fled to Macau, leaving $80,000 owed to a local loan shark. Oh, and said loan shark has kidnapped Mr. Linguini, refusing to return him until he gets his money. So, backed into a corner, Jenny – an aspiring life coach – convinces Anne that the only way to get the money is to go on Can’t Stop The Quiz. The film follows the sisters as they analyze their relationship, while Anne prepares to compete on Can’t Stop the Quiz, which has been sort of held hostage by a smarmy supercontestant/Ken Jennings analogue, played by Jason Schwartzman, who has won over 80 games in a row.

This movie was just as enjoyable as I’d assumed. I posted the trailer in a past West Week Ever, and I was cautiously optimistic. I know Decision Fatigue is a thing, but I’d never really dealt with that. I have a running list of things to consume, so I rarely find myself hunting around for something to watch. That said, I had forgotten about the movie by this point, because streaming programming is essentially dead about 2 weeks after it drops. I can’t tell you how many “Oh, I was gonna watch that!” reminders occur to me in any given week. Anyway, it’s not a sprawling blockbuster, but rather a smaller, more intimate indie comedy. Everyone here knew what they were here to do, and it’s also impressive that both actresses are playing younger characters (“Asian don’t raisin”, indeed!). It’s a somewhat predictable, yet charming, film, so I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a “hidden gem” over on Hulu.

Sticking with streaming indie comedies, I watched Self Reliance, which was written, directed and produced by Jake Johnson. This is another one that I couldn’t wait for, then promptly forgot, then was reminded of its existence by the Hulu homescreen. Let’s just get this out of the way: I love Jake Johnson. That dude is basically my spirit animal. He tends to play the same guy, but I relate to that guy very well: someone who’s kinda “over it”, who’s smart, but lazy, and doesn’t really think things are going to turn out right. There’s a red thread from Nick on New Girl to Ryan from Let’s Be Cops to Tommy here. There’s a part of me that would love to see his characters get a win, but he plays Disaffected Loser so well!

Anyway, Tommy, recently out of a long-term relationship, doesn’t know in which direction his life is heading. He continues to turn up at his ex’s house, but can’t bring himself to knock on her door. He’s bored and going nowhere, and that’s when Andy Samberg shows up, playing himself. It appears Samberg’s career isn’t so hot at the moment, so he took this assignment, which was to invite Tommy to participate in a reality show on the Dark Web. Here’s the pitch: Tommy has to survive for 30 days, while the show sends all sorts of assassins out to kill him, then he will win $1 million. There is a loophole that he can’t be killed unless he is alone. So, as long as he’s around people, he should be fine. But he realizes folks don’t want to be around a guy who sounds insane, talking about folks out to kill him. Then, he meets up with Anna Kendrick, who’s doing her own spin on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, who also happens to be playing the game. You may think you know how this ends, but trust me when I say that you’re wrong. In fact, I was sort of thrown by the ending, but I won’t spoil that here. It’s definitely worth a watch, and it’s only an hour and twenty-nine, so it’s not a huge time investment.

Trailer Park

Smile 2 (Theaters, October 18)
Despite Horror not being a favorite genre of mine, I actually saw Smile. It didn’t suck, even if it was silly at points. While I get that they’re trying to do some Smile world building, this isn’t necessarily where I would have taken a sequel. Naomi Scott is basically “We’ve got Lady Gaga at Home”? Plus, I can’t really look at her without feeling the disappointment from 2017’s Saban’s Power Rangers *insert Tyra “We Were All Rooting For You” gif*. At the end of the day, though, that rictus grin is unsettling. And I kinda hope the studio resorts to the same marketing campaign as last time, where they paid folks to go to live sporting events and get on camera with their grins. I love a good marketing campaign!

The Penguin (Max, September)
Ya know, I originally just saw this as something of a “sunk cost”. It had gotten rolling before James Gunn knew what he wanted to do with the DC films, and it’s Colin Farrell, so you don’t really turn down that opportunity. I didn’t love what Matt Reeves did in The Batman, so I wasn’t clamoring for this. That said, I think I assumed it would be something of a prequel, completely forgetting that Penguin is still basically a henchman here, before he rises to power. I like how it’s using the events of the movie as a jumping off point. I mean, if he’s not Crime Boss Oswald Cobblepot by the next movie, then all of this will have been for nothing. Still, they’ve got my attention. And The Mother is playing a femme fatale?! I swear Cristin Milioti is underused in Hollywood, as she can do so much with so little. How I Met Your Mother wasted her, whereas 30 Rock used her so effectively that Taylor Swift got a lyric out of it!

A Real Pain (Theaters, Coming Soon)
There’s a war going on in Hollywood, and this is indicative of that. Folks are tired of the failure of these wannabe blockbusters, and they long for the return of “filmmaking”. Now, I agree that not everything can be Despicable Marvel Games. But then we get stuff like this, which is a response to what I mentioned. And I don’t know what’s going on here. Like, the trailer tells me nothing. I tend to love Eisenberg, though I find Culkin to be a tad too intense. Still, I had to actually read up to find out the plot of this film, because this gave me nothing. Apparently, they’re cousins, traveling through Poland to honor their grandmother. And the pull quotes here show that the film bros are creaming themselves over just the idea of this movie. Will it be good? Probably. But will it be that good? Probably not.

Will Around The Web

My poorly researched rant column is back! In the latest installment of Willfully Ignorant, I kick around some ideas as to what might have happened to folks in the MCU during “The Blip”

Links I Loved
Noah Berlatsky is one of those terminally online pundits where you’re gonna disagree with a lot of his ideas, but then he’ll shock you with one you’ve got to admit is spot on. Here, he argues that Magneto would be a stronger example of Jewish identity if the Holocaust narrative were removed from his origin. I’ve often said that, due to Marvel’s “sliding timeline”, we’re fast approaching a period where they can no longer expect the audience to accept that Magneto was in the camps, regardless of how much magic and clones and rebirth scenarios Marvel throws at us to justify his age.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week
• Marvel Comics has a new logo, but don’t get too excited – it’s the same design used by Marvel Studios, just with “Comics” replacing “Studios”. Ya know, for “synergy”…
• Resident Alien has been renewed for a fourth season, but will be moving to USA Network for increased visibility
• Will Ferrell is producing a live action adaptation of French cartoon Totally Spies! for Amazon
• Terry Crew and Tichina Arnold will be reprising their roles – in voice only – for an animated “reimagining” of Everybody Hates Chris on Comedy Central.
• The M3GAN Cinematic Universe is expanding, with the development of erotic thriller Soulm8te, slated for a 2026 release. Please tell me they age up the doll in this one, otherwise…
• The voice cast for Amazon’s Batman: Caped Crusader has been announced, with Hamish Linklater (Midnight Mass) as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Christina Ricci (Black Snake Moan) as Catwoman, and Diedrich Bader (Batman: The Brave and the Bold) as Harvey Dent.
• After over a year of speculation, Kevin Costner finally confirmed last night that he would not be returning to Yellowstone, so his days as John Dutton are officially done.

So, it was not a great week for Justin Timberlake. If you’re not aware, he was arrested for a DUI in The Hamptons earlier this week. He’s in the middle of a poorly selling tour, attached to his recent, poorly selling album, Everything I Thought It Was. That album was meant to be his “comeback”, after a six-year absence from music following his 2018 album, Man of the Woods. Justin was pulling out all the stops, going on every talk show, doing an NPR Tiny Desk concert, and even reuniting with his *NSYNC bandmates for 2 new songs. And none of it worked. The new album debuted at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, but then fell entirely off the chart – the one with *200* entries – after 4 weeks. People just didn’t care. But the show must go on!

Timberlake reportedly blew through a stop sign, didn’t stay in his lane, and then refused a field sobriety test. While his friends asked the cop to let him off, it’s been reported that the arresting officer was too young to recognize Timberlake for anything. Online conspiracy theorists, however, think this was somewhat intentional. Ya see, it’s no secret that some big acts are suffering from low ticket sales this year, including Timberlake and Jennifer Lopez. Lopez canceled her tour, but Timberlake didn’t cancel his. Someone even claims that, at the time of arrest, Timberlake muttered “This is going to ruin the tour.” This is where the conspiracies come in: Legal trouble of this kind would be great for him. Ya see, he could “go off to rehab”, which would be a good reason to need to cancel the European leg of the tour. Then, if there’s an insurance policy on the tour, he could just cash that out and gracefully back out of the entire, poorly-selling affair. I’m not sure about all that, but it does feel like this is his present “rock bottom” – things could get worse, like Jessica Biel leaving him and taking the kids or something – so, he can only go up from here. All that’s to say it was still a bad week.

Ya know who did have a great week from all of this, though? The memesters. They really came out in full force to mock this guy. And while it sucks to kick a man when he’s down, public sentiment towards Timberlake has been at an all-time low since Britney’s book revealed he had pressured her to have an abortion while they were together. Even calling his *NSYNC buddies didn’t give him the shot in the arm that he needed. In fact, the failure of the album meant that the *NSYNC reunion plans were rumored to have really ramped up, as he needed them at this point, when the situation had been reversed for the past 20 years. But leave it to the internet to make lemonade out of lemons. Here are a few examples of the greatness bestowed upon us this week:

Anyway, when the news broke, my buddy Mike was like, “So, do you have your Justin Timberlake tribute ready?” My immediate response was “Why? Did he DIE?!”, and he responded, “No, but you gave him the West Week Ever when you found out he knocked up Britney.” And he’s not wrong. I did . I mean, there was more to it than that, but I did. But that’s not happening here. No, the memesters of the Internet had the West Week Ever. Long may they reign!